In the early 1900s a battle was raging on the print presses and newsstands of France. In one corner was Le Vélo, printed on green paper and edited by Pierre Giffard. In the other was L’Auto-Vélo, printed on yellow paper and edited by a former cyclist going by the name of Henri Desgrange.
Le Vélo first appeared in 1892, capitalising on the burgeoning interest in cycling. Organising its own races, it went from strength to strength throughout the 1890s and its future was seemingly secure. Then came the Dreyfus affair.
In 1894 Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was convicted of spying. France quickly divided into those who considered Dreyfus a traitor and those who thought him a victim of anti-Semitism.
Giffard supported Dreyfus and wasn’t shy about saying so, despite many of the industrialists upon whom Le Vélo relied for advertising feeling differently.
After one of his major backers, Alfred de Dion, was arrested in 1899 while demonstrating against the pardoning of Dreyfus, he and Giffard argued. De Dion pulled his advertising and set about establishing a rival paper.
Backed by a consortium put together by de Dion and edited by Desgrange, the first edition of L’Auto-Vélo was published on October 16, 1900. It proclaimed its existence a necessity of the time. “It will sing valiantly every day the glory of athletes,” it cheered.
For three years the papers traded punches with neither able to land a knockout blow. L’Auto-Vélo launched its own races, sometimes barely disguised copies of Le Vélo’s own events.
>>> Icons of cycling: The Champs-Elysées
Giffard meanwhile launched a legal challenge which forced Desgrange’s paper to drop ‘Vélo’ from its title. If Giffard thought he had at last landed a haymaker, he was wrong.
Desgrange fought back and on January 19, 1903, just three days after the enforced name change, L’Auto’s front page carried an announcement that would finally consign Le Vélo to the history books: “The Tour de France: the greatest cycle race in the world.”
A winning gamble
While Giffard was focusing on one-day races, Desgrange had taken a bold leap into the unknown and launched a race around the entire country.
It was a gamble that paid off in spades. Circulation of L’Auto soared as the hyperbolic prose of Desgrange and his team captured the super-human exploits of France’s new heroes in their daily despatches from the roadsides of France. Giffard simply couldn’t compete and the writing was on the wall. In 1904 Le Vélo finally folded.
>>> CW125 Anniversary Sportive – Cycling Weekly Sportive Series
L’Auto, empowered by owning the world’s greatest bike race, continued until 1944 when it closed during the liberation of France after cooperating with the occupying German regime. In its place came a new sports paper edited by a former L’Auto writer Jacques Goddet that thrives to this day: L’Equipe.
Thank you for reading 10 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Founded in 1891, Cycling Weekly and its team of expert journalists brings cyclists in-depth reviews, extensive coverage of both professional and domestic racing, as well as fitness advice and 'brew a cuppa and put your feet up' features. Cycling Weekly serves its audience across a range of platforms, from good old-fashioned print to online journalism, and video.
Inspired by bikepacking events overseas, Rapha introduces the Rapha Yomp Rally
Rapha today announced the launch of the inaugural Rapha Yomp Rally, a five-day 375-mile adventure across some of the most stunning mixed-terrain roads California has to offer.
By Anne-Marije Rook • Published
From false promises and heartbreak to hope - How Heidi Franz is bouncing back from the last-minute collapse of B&B Hotels
Mind games, false promises and a life left in limbo. How American Heidi Franz navigated the B&B Hotels demise and found a kickstart to her new European life
By Anne-Marije Rook • Published